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Hail South Africa

They are the deserved world No. 1, and this may well be their best team in a generation

Harsha Bhogle

December 7, 2012

Comments: 77 | Text size: A | A

AB de Villiers was close to unstoppable, Australia v South Africa, third Test, 3rd day, Perth, December 2, 2012
AB de Villiers: the most remarkable cricketer in the world today? © Getty Images

While some of us in India dramatise the effect of 22 yards of turf, cricket has shown this week that when armed with a bit of spirit, home advantage isn't the overwhelming force it is sometimes made out to be. England and New Zealand, hardly the best travellers traditionally, overpowered what were once fairly strong garrisons. And having defended stubbornly in Adelaide, South Africa vanquished Australia in Perth, playing the kind of cricket that must make other nations queasy. It has been another magnificent season of Test cricket.

Not one of the three visiting teams had to huff and puff to sneak a result in; they didn't win by a nose, more by a couple of lengths. New Zealand's very impressive young core of Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee helped New Zealand beat Sri Lanka by 167 runs. England, powered by a new captain, two fine spinners and a modern genius won by ten wickets on a home-made pitch, and South Africa, well... in spite of some irrelevant slogging at the end, beat the Aussies by 309 runs. It could easily have been 400.

The last of those was perhaps the most significant because it signifies to me the coming of age of the best South African team since their readmission in 1991. If everyone is fit, South Africa will play Graeme Smith (8569 runs at 49.53), Alviro Peterson (1387 at 40.79), Hashim Amla (5323 at 50.69), Jacques Kallis (12980 at 56.92 to go with 282 wickets at 32.57). AB de Villiers (5894 at 49.11), Francois du Plessis (293 in two Tests), JP Duminy (789 at 37.57), Robin Peterson (194 at 24 and 20 wickets at 33), Vernon Philander (267 at 21 and 67 wickets at 17.98), Dale Steyn (834 at 14 and 299 wickets at 23.79), and Morne Morkel (649 at 13.8 and 164 wickets at 30.20)

It is a staggering line-up, with the batting fit to compare to any in the last 30 years, and the pace attack is quite the best in the world at the moment. They field brilliantly and have an extraordinary athlete as wicketkeeper. If there is a weak link at all, it is with spin. Imran Tahir was never going to be the wristspinner they craved, though Peterson is a worthy trier. But with a fair degree of instability with other contenders, South Africa look good enough to keep their No. 1 status longer than any of the other recent holders of that distinction.

And it is a team of varying personalities. Smith is secure as Test captain, scores his share of runs, and you realise with a bit of a start, given how long he has been around, that he is still only 31. It is not inconceivable that he could have his best years ahead of him. As could four other batsmen in that line-up. Amla, surely at the height of his powers, is 29, du Plessis is 28, Duminy is that age too, as is the man I believe is the most remarkable cricketer in the world today, de Villiers. If Kallis can give them two more years and 20 overs a game, they could rule for long.

South Africa's is a staggering line-up, with the batting fit to compare to any in the last 30 years, and the pace attack is quite the best in the world at the moment

In two matches in Australia we saw two completely different facets to de Villiers. Battling to save the game in Adelaide, he batted 220 balls without a boundary for 33. The runs were insignificant compared to the approach. And then in Perth the natural strokeplayer in him emerged and 169 came from 184 balls. Very few players in the modern game can switch roles with such ease. Remember, he has only recently started keeping wicket in Test cricket - and he does that as well as anyone else. Before that he easily found a place in a list of the best fielders in the world. At the IPL this year he produced one of the most stunning displays of inventive batting I have ever seen. Against Dale Steyn steaming in. De Villiers is some cricketer!

Allan Donald thinks this is the best pace attack South Africa have had since readmission, and even if that is the view of a doting elder brother, the attack is still the best in the world at the moment and a handful on any surface. In the modern era a bowler who takes wickets at less than 25 per is rare. South Africa have two in Steyn and Philander, and Morkel could well be embarking on the best phase of his career. While Kallis can no longer crank those muscles up to deliver 140kph, he is still sharp over short spells, which is really all that South Africa need.

I still believe Donald himself at his peak, with Shaun Pollock, a young Kallis and Lance Klusener might outperform this bowling line-up, especially since Pat Symcox or Paul Adams might have provided better spin support. But this team outbats even as distinguished a side as Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Daryll Cullinan, Kallis as he was at the turn of the century, Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes. Yes, this has to be the best.

And meanwhile Test cricket continues to bloom, as I write this after day one of the Test in Kolkata where for six hours bat and ball were locked in the kind of contest no other sport can provide.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by jb633 on (December 10, 2012, 22:12 GMT)

@Sosokiller- just do it first and then you can start making claims. SA are the best side in world cricket at present I am not questioning that. But talks of legacies and domination for 5 years is ridiculously premature. All I am saying is I would back Pakistan to beat SA if they played them right now in the UAE. And unestionably there is little depth. I mean say Steyn gets injured. You bring in who? Kleivledt (trash), Langaveldt (talented but all over the place) who else? SA are playing good cricket and deserve the no 1 spot. Like a previous commenter stated it is easy to make proclamations whilst at the top. It is a very different challenge to stay there. SA are only two injuries away from being the run of the mill avergae side. Just look at Adelaide and the attack without big Vern (class act).

Posted by Soso_killer on (December 10, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

When SA defeated England to become no.1 we beat them at full strength twice with no injuries, in their backyard no less. Thats how you should become no.1, so for Australians to feel hard done by is ridiculous. They had a chance to win against a depleted South African team they could not, end of story. As soon as we played at close to our full strength we blew them out the park. "South Africa defeated a 2nd string Aussie team", please, Siddle and Ben were not injured, they were "rested". Again a depleted SA side drained the life out of them, when they tried to bowl us out. Hall mark of a no.1 side, Australia threw everything at us, and have nothing to show for it. How do they deserve to be no.1, and how did they not manage a win against an injurie plaugged SA side when they were so "dominant". Having a couple of good sessions is hardly dominating a match/series.

Posted by Soso_killer on (December 10, 2012, 8:55 GMT)

"South Africa were dominated in the 1st two test" LOL, really? 1st and foremost we lost two players in 1 in the 1st test in JP. Not only was he suppose to bat, but he was required to bowl Tahir for share of overs. He could have scored a 50/100 we will never know. But its safe to assume with his current form he could have at least faced 120-150 balls, thats 20 overs plus. That would have detered Australia from declaring before tea on Day 5 at the very least. Again in the 2nd test we were 3 player short, Kallis the bowler, and Kallis the batsmen. Steyn was injured at some point, lets not forget our best bowler of the last year i.e. Philander (thats 4 players in 3). To think to the contrary would be foolish.

Posted by Soso_killer on (December 10, 2012, 8:42 GMT)

There is also a lot of noise about "depth" here. What? "If Steyn gets injured" this "if Kallis gets injured" that, whats that got to do with anything?

If Cook and KP gets injured who does England have on the wings? If Clarke and Hussey who does Australia have?

Again this is not a great team, they are a good one, the best in the world at the moment. Depth has nothing to do

Posted by Soso_killer on (December 10, 2012, 8:35 GMT)

@jb633 i'm sorry but what? "who will take wickets for SA in the subcontinent?" doesnt Dale Steyn have his best bowling figures from the flat roads of the subcontinent? South Africa also beat Pakistan in Pakistan and drew in the UAE, having faced the likes of Ajmal etc. whom England had no clue whatsoever. Take off your rose tinted glasses mate, this is by no means a great side but, they are a bloody good one.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 10, 2012, 6:27 GMT)

It would have been a fascinating contest seeing the current South African team take on the 1969-70 team with the likes of Barry Richards,Graeme Pollock and Mike Procter.I would back that team to win but the present side would give it a run for their money with their great balance in batting and bowling.Kallis v.Procter would have been a great duel,but sadly Kallis hardly bowls now.

To prove themselves as a great team this Proteas side must continuously dominate cricket all over the world to successively win test series.Often it has faltered after reaching the top but this time history did not repeat itself.It may not have as many all-rounders as Hanse Cronje's side but has a better middle order batting line up,a more balanced bowling attack and above all more mental resilience.England's recent win in India shows that South Africa's series win in England last summer was truly a great achievement.

Posted by   on (December 10, 2012, 5:24 GMT)

I dont think anything can be as staggering as Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Gomes, Lloyd, Richardson / Logie, Dujon, Marshall, Garner, Holding, Roberts. More so when you consider who missed out. Kalicharan, Rowe, Clarke, Croft, Daniel or aged out (Fredricks).

Posted by Trickstar on (December 10, 2012, 1:46 GMT)

@Marko Geldenhuys I personally think SA deserve to be No1, much the same way England was because they've been consistent and put together some decent wins the past 2 years, anyone who says different has an agenda. I also think that they won't stay there long, I see the top spot changing hands for a couple of reasons, when other sides hit a run of good form and also the Tour schedule can have a impact on rankings. SA have probably been a better away team than a home one in recent years, where they've only won 1 series at home in the last 4 years all the rest draws or a loss. You obviously lack a good spinner and some tested back up seamers. Got to say I was shocked how poor you was in those first couple of tests against a very average Oz side but you turned up in the end and if there was a right time to play England you certainly picked it, with their inability to catch dollies from SA batsmen and dressing room problems, not taking anything away mind

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 9, 2012, 18:38 GMT)

@ jonesy2 & Hammond. RE: 2012 South Africa tours of England & Australia. SA won - period. Aus won NOTHING. They did NOT smash SA - they could not manage a single win. Eng too won NOTHING. The only teams who were smashed were Australia and England - they each received a thorough thrashing from SA.

The records of cricket show only Wins, Draws and Losses. The only team recorded as "WINNING" is South Africa. The only teams recorded as "LOSING" are Oz and England. There are no records for tired bowlers, or Pietersengates, or any of the endless list of "ifs and buts" that have been so tediously trotted out by disbelieving hardcore Eng & Oz fans. All the whinging & whining changes nothing. The records stand - South Africa won.

Hammond predicted Eng would win. jonesy2 predicted Oz would win. Both were 100% wrong. Today, both predict the imminent & continued superiority of their favoured teams. Both predictions will be proved wrong. Again.

SA won, and are number 1. Reality. Get over it.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2012, 8:48 GMT)

Some of you guys are having a good laugh. South Africa are by some distance the best team in the test arena. As some point out, the depth is worrying in both batting and bowling department. As the article clearly points out, at full strength SA are the best team. Speculating about Kallis retirement is pointless. Another thing, "Du Plessis had a good innings against 3 exhausted bowlers." Don' be ridiculous. His 1st 3 innings were in test cricket was over 50. One over 100. He came into the Adelaide 2nd innings with SA 4 down and Australia had not even bowled a full session. Why were they so exhausted??? They became exhausted because he batted well and for a very long period of time.

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 19:47 GMT)

Its good to see the Proteas winning on Australian soil for the second consecutive time in a test series and deservedly clinging on to their number one status.Unfortunately its the big stage where they have always faltered and I would dearly love to see them lift the World Cup.

Posted by barnold on (December 8, 2012, 18:20 GMT)

Champions always find a way to pull something out the bag when the chips are down, look at the great John McEnroe. Proteas were a spinner and batsman down in Duminy in the first test, also not enough time to acclimatize having played only one practice match in Oz, second test they lost Kallis too. Still they fought off a very determined and rampant Australian team at home. Proteas have been hovering in the top three for years. This team knows how to bowl out 20 wickets too. thanks Gary and Alan.

Posted by JHSA on (December 8, 2012, 14:23 GMT)

Those who say that SA wont have a quality world class spinner in a while, well there are too youngsters in SA that have great potential and who seem like they could be the answer. There is a youngster by the name of Subrayen that plays for the Dolphins who is fantastic and his only 19 or 20 and is taking plenty of wickets. Bit of a mystery spinner....reminds me a lot of Sunil Narine, bowl similat to him with plenty of variation. Then there is also another bloke from the Lions....Phangiso, you guys might of seen a bit of him in the CLT20...he got Tendulkar out, he too takes plenty of wickets and is very economical....great ODI bowler. There are also quite a few up and coming young pace bowlers....but with the current crop of SA pace attack, they will have to bide their time.

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 13:08 GMT)

@rajnish.sinha : A few weeks back ? South Africa were no 1 a few weeks back , i dont know what ranking system you have been looking at but its certainly not the official ICC rankings thats for sure. @Hammond : you dont have a clue what you are talking about , English cricket was responsible for Kev and his gate. Shame eng lost so now we have to come up with excuses ? shame on you hahahaha.

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 11:14 GMT)

@Hammond and @jonesy2, yeah Australia and England smashed the world's best team winning 2-0 and 1-0...oh wait, wasn't it SA that won? haha, Jealous Aussies and Poms! England were humiliated let alone compete (2 wickets in a test?? with Pietersen mind you) whilst Aus couldn't beat a 10 man team at the Gabba...Also the two teams couldn't win a test HOME against SA making all sorts of excuses...Your idea of world no.1 team? Give me a break!No one is calling them invincible but they are the best at present. First go unbeaten for 6 years away from home before talking about being the BEST IN THE WORLD!

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 3:56 GMT)

I thought it was only me (especially from India) who was able to recognize the value of AB, and his commitment to the team. When I heard about AB aspiring to become the best batsman in the world, the first thing that crossed my mind was that he would try to accumulate as much run as possible, lots of centuries etc. But FORTUNATELY that was not the case, he really wanted to become the best batsman in TRUE SENSE. Kudos to Harsha for calling him as the most remarkable cricket player. Among SA players I admire Steyn, Kallis & Amla more for their different qualities, but AB is the one who amazes me most. PS: Asif Iqbal has played as many great innings as any other Pakis, but not many remember him, but I do.Numbers never tell the full story, if they do then there are/were about 40 batsmen better than Viv, I haven't seen any in the same league during the last 30 years.

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 3:42 GMT)

@jonesy2 Yes SA were dominated by Australia throughout the series but they showed grit and saved the matches. And when it counted, they smashed Australia's attack out of the game. Meanwhile Australia doesn't have much batting stock and in the past six innings they've lost three to four wickets by the time they reach 100 and they had to rely on Clarke and Hussey to bail them out. I wouldn't call this South African team perfect, but they're playing good cricket consistently, hence why they're No.1. Don't think Aus will threaten World No.1 for next 5 plus years with the batting they have, especially since they've been bowled for 47! before. Don't get cocky.

Posted by EAMi on (December 8, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

@venkatraman Ganesh: sorry to burst your bubble but SA drew the Test series with Pakistan in the UAE. They did not win.

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 1:22 GMT)

Smith is an average skipper who has benefitted enormously by the performances of Amla, Kallis, Steyn and Morkel. He plays for a draw first and then will only attack when he is sure he won't lose. Compare this to Clarke, who attacks from day one with a much younger, inexperienced 11. I know whose shoes I'd rather be in next time they meet (and hoefully play five Tests).

Posted by pommyadders on (December 8, 2012, 1:03 GMT)

100% agree with everything you just said there rajnish.sinha. Way too early to be making any wild predictions of future South African dominance. They are the best at the moment there is no argument there, but to stay No1 2 things must happen.....their existing players must maintain or improve on current performances and they must also be able to bring in new players who can immediately step up (as Philander has done) As an England fan I can honestly say that Eng's rise to the top was down to all the squad peaking for a 2 year period. It was essentially the same core group of players that were playing well before their rise and the same players there during the recent decline. They peaked and didn't maintain that standard.......no one knows or can predict whether South Africa can or will.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 7, 2012, 23:05 GMT)

rajnish.sinha on (December 07 2012, 14:03 PM GMT) If Philander is, as you claim, "good but not as good as those numbers he has," please explain why he has the numbers & how he got them. Are the records wrong?

You wrote that SA are a "good side where most of the players have struck a purple patch simultaneously." Really? How long is a purple patch? SA's top batting averages (min 10 matches) since:

Jan 2002 Kallis' ave is 61.13 (worlds best) Jan 2009 Kallis 64.53, de Villiers 61.33, Amla 61.17 (world no. 1, 2 & 3) Jan 2010 Kallis 69.47, Amla 68.40, de Villiers 62.51 (world's no. 2, 3 & 4) Jan 2011: Kallis 62.04, Amla 61.95, de Villiers 54.18 (world's no 4, 5 & 11) Jan 2012 (min 4 inngs): du Plessis 146.5, Duminy 90.33, Amla 70.93, Kallis 67.42, de Villiers 58.21 (world's no 1, 5, 7, 9, 11)

Kallis, Amla & de Villiers have very long "simultaneous purple patches." Similarly, Dale Steyn - world's best bowler since 2008.

Don't discount this team with glib phrases. Records don't lie.

Posted by mrmonty on (December 7, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

@jonesy2, is this the same Australian side that got thrashed by 300 runs? They (i.e. Michael "Bradman-at-home" Clarke and David "Sehwag" Warner) can only be good if the pitches offer nothing.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 7, 2012, 21:27 GMT)

@ jonesy2 & Hammond. RE: 2012 South Africa tours of England & Australia. SA won - period. Aus won NOTHING. They did NOT smash SA - they could not manage a single win. Eng too won NOTHING. The only teams who were smashed were Australia and England - they each received a thorough thrashing from SA.

The records of cricket show only Wins, Draws and Losses. The only team recorded as "WINNING" is South Africa. The only teams recorded as "LOSING" are Oz and England. There are no records for tired bowlers, or Pietersengates, or any of the endless list of "ifs and buts" that have been so tediously trotted out by disbelieving hardcore Eng & Oz fans. All the whinging & whining changes nothing. The records stand - South Africa won.

Hammond predicted Eng would win. jonesy2 predicted Oz would win. Both were 100% wrong. Today, both predict the imminent & continued superiority of their favoured teams. Both predictions will be proved wrong. Again.

SA won, and are number 1. Reality. Get over it.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 20:29 GMT)

@JB633......... u want Saffas to visit India after seeing the state of Indian team and the drubbing they are having from England, Saffas have imo much better batting line up than England and their visit will put final nail in Indian Home record coffin, so host Zimbabwe or Bangladesh to put your averages right......:) @Venkatraman Ganesh................. mate SA didnt beat Pakistan in UAE, the series was tied, check your record please............ Now for SA, they are good, but they didnt earn that win in Australia, Oz were the better side and to win against the third string attack is not a great feat, they were pushed to border when Pattinson and Siddle were bowling and i am 100 % sure that would the Australians somehow put the pace attack together, SA could not have won the last match, they were really exposed to some high quality bowling in the series but in the end and at last SA did have some LUCK...........:)

Posted by Beertjie on (December 7, 2012, 20:09 GMT)

@rajnish.sinha on (December 07 2012, 14:03 PM GMT) You make some perceptive comments and I agree with you when you write "they have always been a top side but i dont see them as invincibles." Kallis is the key, as much for the confidence he brings to the team as for his performances. He will retire after the next WC and by then AB will be skipper and be obliged to give up the gloves. The team may then read Smith, Petersen/A.N. Other, Amla, AB, Duminy, du Plessis, de Kock, Philander, Steyn, Morkel, de Lange. Note the absence of a class spinner (with JP and Faf useful partnership breakers at best) - no one on the horizon either. So the pace attack will be good but the team will be ageing. It will be up to Australia and England to challenge them unless India and Pakistan can more effectively tap their undoubtedly talented massed ranks.

Posted by AB_DeVilliers on (December 7, 2012, 20:08 GMT)

@jb633 - our next tour to the subcontinent is to Sri Lanka next year. The problem is that the Sri Lankan's are in such dispear, they decided to scrap the test matches. Why you would do such a thing when the world number one team visits your shores is beyond me. Probably scared (even though they're saying something about financial crisis). Oh, and just so btw, we haven't lost a series in the subcontinent since 2006..which is now 7 years..and we've played two series vs Pak, Ind and Bang (can't do much if SL don't want to play us). Best team in the world if you ask me, in any conditions.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

Instead of testing players like Elgar and others, Team South Africa should bring in the new kid on the block ...Quinton de Kock....test this guy as a future replacement for Kallis.This is also going to help AB to focus more on his batting and taking fielding positions any where inside the 30 yard circle but behind the stumps.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

Also, the English fans on the site should remember that South Africa have continued to have the better of your team since 2008 and have only really lost 1 series in 2003-4 to Vaughan's touring squad (the 1998 series was a disgraceful robbery concoted by some of the worst umpiring in cricket history). 2008 - South Africa win 2-1 (the last being a dead rubber without Graeme Smith), 2009-10 - Tied 1-1, with England holding onto their boot straps twice with 9 wickets down. 2012 - 2-0, the first time since re-admission that either team has won by a larger margin than 1 and stop the KP chatter, seriously, y'all have nothing to complain about... Bairstow probably added more runs and less drama than Pietersen would have at Lord's with a 150+ and the fact that the Proteas played 10-men in the first two Tests and survived to rebound strongly in Perth is a testament to their abilities.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 19:58 GMT)

I wonder how many actually understand the significance of South Africa's record away from home. The mighty Australians from 1995-2008 never endured such a perfect away record for as long as Graeme Smith's South Africa have... since taking over from the Windies in '95, Australia lost in India in 98, Sri Lanka in 99-00, England in 05 and again, India in 2008-9. Therefore, Australia's longest stretch of overseas dominance was 5 years, Warne-McGrath-Hayden-Langer and company.

I don't forsee a decade of Protea dominance but there's no doubt that South Africa have been the most consistent team for the last six years; and the only team deserving of being NO. 1. Their next great challenge is Pakistan in SA (who should actually be more dangerous than Pakistan in the UAE), after that... I don't think they will meet another major competitior till 2015 (England's tour?).

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 19:13 GMT)

A fit south african side would rival those deep Australian line-ups circa 2000 with Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Ponting, Waugh and Gilchrist et al. Huge luxury to have to only play four specialist bowlers with a specialist batsman at 9.

Posted by Osman.A.Khairi on (December 7, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

@ Venkatesh - Actually, you're the one that needs lessons in Cricket. Pakistan and South Africa drew the series 0-0. God knows what you've been following. Is the BCCI showing something else in India? Tune out of that and join the rest of the cricket world. Btw, hope you're enjoying the mauling at hands of the worst players of spin. Cheers!

Posted by SICHO on (December 7, 2012, 18:56 GMT)

Oh yeah! The fact that it gets under people's skin that we are #1 excites me. Obviously its the sore poms and oz losers, I don't blame them though. Not being able to win against us twice at their own turf is embarrasing. Ironically, Hammond uses KP as an excuse, of which he's a born SAFFA (available talent in Eng is just mediocre and not good enough). Oz with the likes of 'hit-or-nick' Warner and 'boom, bang and gone' Watson in the team isn't going anywhere in next 7 or so years, plus their pie-club-abysmal bowling ''depth''. I expect the Ozzies to get something like a 4-1 or 3-0 (if not 5-0) in the Ashes next year.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 18:44 GMT)

Those who are saying SA defeated PAK in UAE, that series was a draw and Pakistan suffering from spot fixing was still able to draw the series. That series was MIBAH first assignment as CAPTAIN and AJMAL was not a great bowler at that time. Pakistan test side is now settled and solid having good batsmen like azhar, misbah, shafiq, younis. JUNAID KHAN, UMAR GUL, AJMAL and couple of good young fast bowlers are coming up so BEWARE SA. Its your turn now after ENGLAND.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (December 7, 2012, 17:44 GMT)

I think the 'no.1' talk is rubbish. In fact NONE of the top 3 test teams are good enough to be at that spot. SA, ENG, and AUS all have weaknesses which one another can exploit. I won't even bring in ANY of the ASIAN teams into the equations because ALL of them are mediocre in test cricket, of which India is the worst. Asian teams are better off playing T20s and ODIs which is their strong suit. Test cricket MUST be only played among these 3 teams. Anyway, coming to the point, I feel SA will keep the no.1 ranking for a while simply because of their bowling. Even when they score low runs, their bowling negates the advantage of the opposition. We saw that in one of the games against Australia where SA only score 220 odd and then dismissed Australia for less than 200. So it's their bowling that will eventually keep them at the top. England's bowling is the next best with 2 decent spinners. Sadly, Australia are looking down at the barrel with an inconsistent team overall.

Posted by gerrardl on (December 7, 2012, 17:03 GMT)

Fair play - SA has quality players all around the park and they are playing some great stuff and being led by one of the true champions of world cricket. The aussie commetators below claim to have dominated them the past series? Seriously? SA didn't even need to be playing at their best to beat them. And really, after injuries in the first two tests, they DOMINATED australia in Perth - Aussies will be having nightmares about that massacre for years. Day 2 and 3 at the WACA - tell your grandkids about it, Steyn, Smith, Amla and de Villiers. As for their work in the UK this past summer - just thoroughly professional in all aspects. They are a well put together side. The best, most influential, talented and determined players in the world at the moment are all South African - Amla, Kallis, Smith, De Villiers, Steyn, Morkel. This is why they are number one. And this is why they'll be number one for a while. It's up to the rest of us to catch up! England number 2 ;)

Posted by LillianThomson on (December 7, 2012, 16:33 GMT)

In fact, South Africa is the same as India and England before them. They have risen to number one by staying at the same "quite good" level while the previous incumbent goes into decline. They lack a top class opening partner for Smith, while FAF is untested outside Australia. The use of De Villiers as a keeper shortens the bowling line-up at a time when Kallis is fading as a bowler, Steyn has lost his pace and there is no spinner. If Pakustan could select Asif and Amir they would probably be favorites on their upcoming tour!

Posted by KingOwl on (December 7, 2012, 16:09 GMT)

I grant the journalists to hype and sensationalize. But let's look at things more objectively. SA are definitely a very good side and deserve #1 because they beat England and Australia, away. BUT, they have still not won a test series in Sri Lanka (not sure about in India - probably not). ALSO, they almost lost the second test in Aus and were worse off in the first. Of course one could put a positive spin and say they fought hard and drew. They also lost a HOME test to SL for the first time ever, a few months ago. And their one day and T20 records are nothing to crow about. So, SA are certainly deserving #1 at the moment, because there is nobody else, really. But they are only marginally ahead of the rest.

Posted by C.A-SA1987 on (December 7, 2012, 15:29 GMT)

@jonesy2 - I'm glad your comments get posted... It provides us with comic relief and it only serves to "endear" the australians to the rest of the world even more.

Who's batting is LESS "dodgy" than ours at the moment? Whilst having our off days, when last have we been handed a beat-down? We may not "smash" the opposition, but we're tough as nails and that's good enough for me. All i want is for my team to bleed for their badge, which is what they do. Too bad the same cant be said about your team (siddle, ponting, clarke and hussey apart). Also, i think Amla and AB showed what they thought of your "bowling depth". Stop living in the past... "Mate".

@Saffie1987 - whoah there boet.. I hope more than anything else that we're number 1 for years to come, but 5 years is a long time... Lets not put too much pressure on our boys.

LONG LIVE KING KALLIS!!! Best South African sportsperson of all time (yes, i said it)...

Posted by jb633 on (December 7, 2012, 15:05 GMT)

@Saffie1987- yeah with the world class spinners of Peterson and Tahir I am sure that Virat Kholi is quaking in his boots. Maybe Sanga and MJ have the yips about facing slow full tosses or spinners that don't spin it. Wait till you have done it before boasting mate. If you get 3 injuries your team is nothing. No depth whatsoever. You have a great playing 10 ( no spinner) but if Steyn gets injured you will be hopeless in Asia. You were comprehensivley outplayed for most of the series in Oz and only managed to beat a second string Oz side. The Aussies were all over you in the first two tests but unfortunate injuries got in the way. If your guys had no answer to Clarke, imagine what Mahela and Sanga will do on a featherbed. Ride high while you can but this won't last. Nothing in the cupboards, this side will deteriorate soon. If you find a good spinner then talk about legacies and 5 year domination. At least win at home before the gloating begins.

Posted by jb633 on (December 7, 2012, 14:55 GMT)

December 07 2012, 13:17 PM GMT, I know SA have not lost in India and for your mind I watched every ball of the 2010 series and it was a cracker. I am still dubious though that they would have the attack to win in those conditions (at this time). Without a good spinner how would you take wickets. We saw how inefective their seamers were on the flat slow decks in Oz, so realistically would they destroy India in India ( I highly doubt it). And yes they beat a Pak side in the UAE that were at their very weakest point. Ravaged with controversies, suspensions and not being allowed to play at home they were at their very weakest point. I am not saying SA could not win there but it would be more of a challenge for them than England or Oz tours. Facing Ajmal and Rehman in the UAE is nowadays the ultimate challenger for batsmen from ENG/SA/OZ/NZ as the conditons are so alien and the bowlers are of such quality. SA are the best side in the world, fact, but it is premature to speak of legacies.

Posted by Last_ride on (December 7, 2012, 14:34 GMT)

@Jonesy2 Hammond. Sour grapes. Let me tell you it has been a while since i have seen a South African side like this.I expect them to Polish off Newzealand 2-0 and Dismantle Pakistan 3-0.If not for Duminys injury and rain at the gabba. South Africa would have won comfortably.If the Pitches werent doctored to be flat tracks. 3-0 would have been a obvious result.

Posted by rajnish.sinha on (December 7, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

a side always looks good when it is number one. same things could have been said about england when they were number one a few weeks back plus they had world's best spinner. their batsmen were scoring like crazy and bowling was perfectly balanced with anderson leading. look at amla, he is scoring so much but still averages a little above 50 and so is the case with devilliers. look at philander, he is good but not as good as those numbers he has. its just that they have a very good side where most of the players have struck a purple patch simultaneously and so they look invincible. they have always been a top side but i dont see them as invincibles. as someone pointed out loosing kallis or him running out of form will be enough

Posted by shillingsworth on (December 7, 2012, 13:48 GMT)

@big_al_81 - I'd suggest that much of the hype comes from supporters and columnists who are unable to interpret the rankings. It surely is pretty clear from the relative number of points when a team is an undisputed no1 or when their position at the top is more transient. Whilst I agree that the current system isn't perfect, I'm not convinced that the solution is to abolish it. I'm even less convinced that a committee of experts could come up with more accurate rankings or that their verdict would be universally accepted.

Posted by Saffie1987 on (December 7, 2012, 13:48 GMT)

It seems a lot of people on here are jealous, South-Africa will easily beat Sri-Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh away! We are going to be number one for atleast 5 years, so deal with it hahahahah!

Posted by Karnamkotil on (December 7, 2012, 13:47 GMT)

Aus made 490 on d first day, and still wer not able to beat SA. That was some real come back i hav seen. they truly r the best Test team now.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 13:19 GMT)

@ Hammond, jonesy2 - empty, jealous words. South Africa knocked England and Australia off this year with sublime performances all round. And if I'm not mistaken, we did it in the previous tours to both countries as well. Where's the better team I ask? Bring it. Smith will slay its captain and kill its spirit. Ponting, cheers. Strauss. Cheers. Vaughan, cheers. Hussain, goodbye. 6 year away record? Can't match that. Your threats are ridiculous - this team has a legacy of being good. Scratch that, this team dominates world test cricket at the moment. I'm not saying we can't lose. But oh man, we've become very good at not losing to anyone! Bring your sheep and your tea - we'll do better. We'll bring BIFF (and King Kallis, and The Mighty Hash, and, and...infinity). Kthxbai

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 13:17 GMT)

In reply to JB633! I am not sure if you know cricket that well. Sorry to say, but SA are the only team to have not lost a test series in India during the last 6 years. They have toured twice during this period. They defeated Pakistan in UAE and in Pak as well. They will hold their own even in the Subcontinent. SA have not an unbeaten series record away from 2006. Maintaining it for 6 whole years in unbelievable and if it had not been for some strange drawn home series, they would have been No.1 long long back!

Posted by Munkeymomo on (December 7, 2012, 12:59 GMT)

They are the top side of course, easy, but losing Kallis will be a big weak point, de Villiers is a decent keeper, nothing special, but a top batsman, if he decides to give up the gloves, there is another hole. I've said it before that as good as Steyn and Amla are, the reason why they are so good is Kallis and AB's secondary abilities. Those two integral cogs plus the world best batsman AND bowler make a great side. If they had a decent spinner they'd be unbeatable, but the strength in depth of the quicks is more than enough to keep them overly competitive is almost all conditions.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 7, 2012, 12:45 GMT)

ill break down why its not feasable for south africa to be number one for a sustained period. batting is dodgy, du plessis had a good innings against 3 exhausted bowlers, kallis will have to retire sooner or later that alone is enough to send the proteas wobbling, they have no spinner and you cant win consistently without a spinner, their bowling lacks depth as does the side across the board and when steyn doesnt bowl well all is as good as lost for them. the pluses i see is quinten de kock looks like a player as does marchent de lange, but thats not enough.

Posted by Hammond on (December 7, 2012, 12:40 GMT)

A lucky team that engineered Pietersengate and then profited from it in the final test against England, then struggled against a bog average Aussie side. They will keep number 1 for as long as they did the first time they got it. A better side is on their tail.

Posted by jonesy2 on (December 7, 2012, 12:37 GMT)

haha well apparently australia just smashed the worlds best side throughout a series. im afraid they wont be number 1 for long. much like englands little stay there which was embarrassing to say the least. cant see anybody threatening australia over the next 5 plus years.

Posted by jb633 on (December 7, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

I would like to see SA tour India or Sri Lanka on a crumbling deck. Whlist they are the best side on surfaces that suit how would they cope without a spinner in Asia. I mean the spinners at their disposal are hopeless. In terms of a batting line up, this is head and shoulders above anything in the world. I still feel in terms of depth there is not so much. The top 7 mentioned is good but who is waiting in the wings to play test cricket if a couple of injuries occur. I still feel the line up would be complete if Peterson was replaced with Mckenzie as he really is a classy player. SA definitley deserve the no 1 status but talk of a legacy is classic over the top journalism. Wait till they have won in India before we speak of legacies etc. When is SA's next tour to the SC. Any ideas?

Posted by Firenze317 on (December 7, 2012, 11:50 GMT)

Also, I'll always have a special place in my heart for Hansie Conje's team :) It was them that first inspired me to get into cricket for some reason...

Posted by Firenze317 on (December 7, 2012, 11:47 GMT)

Regarding New Zealand winning against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka - with all due respect to the Kiwis, for they did play really well, the Lankans threw the match away! We've done it before and we'll most likely do it again! Think what they really need is to drill AB de Villiers' Adelaide innings into their brains and draw from it when needed! It's the only way haha

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

its a great team no doubt abt tht credit shd also go to kirsten guys !! they also hav the best coach in the world !! remember when kirsten was there gambhir was in the form of his life and zak too once kirsten left indian team became worse than bangadesh !! same goes to sa for example who will replace steyn if he gets injured ?? tsotsobe or kleinveldt or delange ?? no one can replace him !! same goes for kallis too and smith and amla partnership is winning them many matches single handedly and amla is in the form of his life just likrle cook and clarke !! sa hav replacements for batsmen like du plessis etc but i dont think they can get as gud replacementz for this bestest bowling attack never !! sa r the team i like aftr india becoz they r headed by a great leader who leads frm the front and an ferocious aggressive bowler who is raring to go at the batsmen and the worlds best coach !!

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 11:25 GMT)

Hi Harsha

If you see historically over the last 15 plus years: SA has always been either 2nd or 3rd Team in test rating. They have been fairly consistent in Test matches. They were unlucky on several occasion. Btu Smitha has come a long way as Captain. They are one of the few Test teams in the last 20 years to have won back to back Test Series in England and Australia.

Posted by big_al_81 on (December 7, 2012, 11:12 GMT)

I don't think there's any reason to doubt that SA are the best team in Tests at the moment. But I do think there's a tremendous amount of hype in cricket at the moment. Australia were at least the equals of SA for most of the series just elapsed and SA are lucky that the generally bizarre rankings system has worked out right for once. In any normal world England's staggering perfomance in Oz in 2010-11 would have taken them to the top (sensibly) when they were actually the best, rather than having to beat a terrible India at least 3-0 to do so. If you fiddle with the (admittedly fun) ICC ranking predictor you'll find that England could beat India 3-1 in this series and SA have poor series at home against the very weak SL and NZ and still SA would be ahead - can nobody invent a better system so that teams get to number 1 when they are actually on top form rather than months or even a year or so later? Maybe we should have it judged by experts and not maths?SA would still be No 1 now tho

Posted by stormy16 on (December 7, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

SA have actually been the best side for a while now just didnt have the #1 ranking to prove thanks to some strange drawn series at home which they really should have won. Probably the only team capable of winning away from home on a consistent basis. They have all the trumps except of course spin but that hasnt stopped them getting to #1 and I dont see them losing this spot for a while. There is plenty of talent in SA - just checkout the guys who are not playing test cricket. A second string SA side would hold its own against most test nations. The batting and bowling talents are pure and top quality and most importantly age in on their side. I see SA at the top for the next 10 years in which time we will see some altime greats in Kallis, AB, Amla, Steyn, Smith make their mark backed up by some high class players. The best thing about SA is they dont have the brashness of other #1 teams - may be we will finally realize you dont have to be ugly to be the best.

Posted by The_Ashes on (December 7, 2012, 9:35 GMT)

ha! South Africa are number 1 but not 'world' number 1, the 'world' doesn't play Test Cricket.

Posted by mahjut on (December 7, 2012, 9:18 GMT)

btw, it was a few short months ago that Kallis was regularly hitting 140 in the shorter verision (maybe that's the key .... he knows his limitations but he can crank it up if he has to

Posted by Chandrurec5 on (December 7, 2012, 9:18 GMT)

Harsha, South Africans have put up a foudroyant performance. The fielders are lissome, not cavil about who is in which position and a captain who is not a poltroon. With factotums like Kallis, who has stippled a name for himself through the cosmorama of his abilities. His recent form is a tocsin for SRTs test records! All Puissance and no ostentations has been the name of their game. Thought of as a nostrum, the once callow Grame Smith has gone from strength to strength, trenchant to minatory, whereas so called greats like SRTs who remonstrated and absquatulated without a hint of compunction. Congrats SA!

Posted by mahjut on (December 7, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

Harsha, loving the line up ... it's spot on and while Faf's ave will drop, JP's look highly likely to rise (he really has been looking good) and he can turn his arm over better than most 'part time' bowlers. Robin Peterson has really improved and generally (though not constantly) overlooked due their their (and my own) blind desire to see Tahir come good. I still think Botha should have been a worthy competitor to Peterson but that ship has sailed (personality clash with Smith?).imo Robin is a bit more than a mere trier, if not yet of Test 'class'. I think NZ, and *possibly* more so PK will be a very good barometer. Mmmm, Donald, Shaun, Lance, Kallis and Adams - yeah, maybe ... not totally convinced young JK vs this JK, Vernon vs Lance i think the newer ones edge it, and donald vs dale whew, close , though Shaun and Paul are probably safe bets over Morne and Robin!!? but the current attack - i think - has more variety. JP and RP combine to equal Paul) anyway, maybe...

Posted by MrKricket on (December 7, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

They are definitely the best SA side I've seen. However, time will tell whether this is a new era or a short reign. The depth is not apparent - the bowling replacements are not there and it will be interesting in a few years when Smith and Kallis go.

I'd still have my money on Steve Waugh's side, which also highlights how good the Indian side of 2001 was.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 7, 2012, 8:50 GMT)

It is also significant that today there is a general decline in the standard of test cricket and thus the top teams are not in the same class as those of yesteryear.England's downslide from the top in the Pakistan tour in 2011-12 is the best example,after their spectacular triumphs against Australia and India.India ,is virtually in the same club if we remember that it was the unofficial champion team after the 2010-11 tour of South Africa.

To me,South Africa should have atleast won by a 2-0 margin to be rated as an outstanding champion.Neverthless in England last summer they gave a top notch performance,which is proved by England emerging as possible winners against India in the current series in India.I still rate the 2000 South African team led by Hanse Cronje,marginally stronger with their allrounders and batting depth.Anway let us wish South Africa all the luck to pave the path of the great test teams of the past.

Posted by harshthakor on (December 7, 2012, 8:36 GMT)

Harsha,I appreciate your write up particularly on the positivity of three overseas teams being victorious in test cricket in the same period.South Africa were a brilliantly rejuvenated team at Perth,rising like a phoenix from the Ashes.With England playing so well now in India,whom the Proteas vanquished last summer your prophecy may well come true

However I still think that the Proteas have a long way to go to be compared with the all-time great sides like the past West Indies or Aussie champion teams.They were outplayed in the first 2 tests of the series by Australia and were morally beaten in the 2nd test.Infatc t 1-1 would have been a fairer result.No doubt even with a drawn rubber S.Africa would and deserve to top the world test rankings.

Personally,I rate their performance in 2008-09 series in Australia where they won 2-1, better than this series ,in which they twice gave the Aussies a drubbing and clinched the rubber before the third test.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 8:17 GMT)

this is a very good sa team and will dominate 4 while yet but 4 them 2be considered great they must rule like the windies and aussies did in the past

Posted by graemecodrington on (December 7, 2012, 7:40 GMT)

Harsha, it is wonderful to be a South African fan right now. I agree with your sentiments entirely. Now, hopefully, this team can win a World Cup - or, in fact, any ICC trophy. That would make my life complete.

Posted by Thamara on (December 7, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

You are right Harsha. They are the world no.1 team in every respect. No team may have performed as well as SA in Australia for the last 25 years or so. They did so not only in this series but also in their previous test series. Their only problem is lacking a world-class spinner. I cannot see them finding a good spinner in the near future either. But all in all, they are just brilliant although they were not at their best in the second match in Adelaide.From SA' point of view, the most impressive finding was du plessis. He seems to be a solid player who can bat at any stage of a game.

Posted by Romanticstud on (December 7, 2012, 6:49 GMT)

At the moment most of the world is in transition - Australia have lost Hayden, Gilchrist, McGrath , Warne, Waugh, Ponting ... So Clarke and Hussey have to nurture the youngsters ... India have lost Dravid, Laxman and Need to stabilise their batting line-up ... Sri-Lanka have lost Jayasuriya, Murilitheran and are busy brooding youngsters ... South Africa ... have lost Boucher but seem to be holding on dispite his ability as keeper and game-saver ... Du-Plessis did that job in Adelaide ... when South Africa looked buried ... Hopefully Du-Plessis can find a more permanent slot at no 6 and maybe later take Kallis' batting spot ... and who would become the next batsman / bowler to stick up their hand for South Africa ...

Posted by VivtheGreatest on (December 7, 2012, 6:41 GMT)

Have to disagree with Harsha a bit. The present SA team is very good no doubt but I feel that man to man Cronje's team of the late 90's was a better one. Their misfortune was that the Aussie team of that era was a once in a generation team!!

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

very true Harsha Bhogle Sir, but perhaps the weak link is their KEEPER.... whatever but i do think they lack a genuine keeper/bat. AB wont do job for long that for sure...but than again i ve seen deKock in clt20 and heard a lot from him from SA fans.... probably next 2-3 years they are safe...and also remarkably what is stand out is when Kallis plays they ve automatic 4th seamer who can ball in 130s. King Kallis with 57+ average and 40odd century + 300 wickets. but the other part of life is when Kallis retires they need to field 12 players to cover up .... hahahahha

Posted by MK88 on (December 7, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

South Africa REJOICE!!!! People go on and on about the Proteas not winning consecutive test...But yet, we don't lose consecutive tests, and most importantly, we don't get beaten. This ladies and gentlemen, are CHAMPIONS of test cricket.

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 6:00 GMT)

As a loyal Saffer fan I still think we are better on paper than on the field. A bit too inconsistent for me. The Aus series was brilliant though. To carry that many passengers, and still win the series, amazing. Some of our selections are disappointing. I don't know where Kleinveldt came from, he is obviously not up to the mark. Rudolph has been persisted with for too long. Hopefully he has been dropped for good. Might as well have a young pup in there scoring 20s and 30s, and getting some experience for the future

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 5:42 GMT)

Yes the batting lineup is remarkable right now, and the bowling lineup is outstanding. Very exciting times as a SA supporter!

Posted by cricankul on (December 7, 2012, 4:38 GMT)

it is true that south africa has best combination of players in this period.but with a world cup tag they would be even better.

Posted by kriketeer on (December 7, 2012, 4:26 GMT)

south africa is the best side... but they didnt play well for the first 2 tests against aiustralia.... they would have lost the first one if a day wasnt washed out... if there is a weakness i would say 1- in bating they have a weakness against left arm seam bowling... 2 - bowling now good spinners...

but they will live long .....as all other teams are struggling to get the right team....

Posted by   on (December 7, 2012, 3:22 GMT)

As usual, fantastic article Harsha.... seems remarkable how Gary Kirsten has helped this team of greats to play so well.... he seems to have a certain magic about him.... I would like someone to analyze what he does and document it. It would be worth the effort. I would love to see South Africa dominate cricket the way Aus/ Windies did in their prime. It would do the cricket world a load of good.

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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